Arkady Shevchenko

Arkady Nikolayevich Shevchenko (Ukrainian: Аркадій Миколайович Шевченко, Russian: Аркадий Николаевич Шевченко; October 11, 1930 February 28, 1998), a Soviet diplomat, was the highest-ranking Soviet official to defect to the West.

Arkady Nikolayevich Shevchenko
Arkady Shevchenko, 1984
United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs
In office
10 July 1973  10 June 1978
Preceded byLeonid Kutakov
Succeeded byMikhail Sytenko
Personal details
BornOctober 11, 1930
Horlivka, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
DiedFebruary 28, 1998(1998-02-28) (aged 67)[1]
Washington, DC., United States
Cause of deathcirrhosis of the liver
Alma materMoscow State Institute of International Relations
Military service
AllegianceSoviet Union then American

Shevchenko joined the diplomatic service of the Soviet Union, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as a young man and rose through its ranks, becoming advisor to Andrei Gromyko, Minister for Foreign Affairs. In 1973, he was appointed Under Secretary General (USG) of the United Nations. During his assignment at the UN headquarters in New York City, Shevchenko began passing Soviet secrets to the CIA. In 1978, he cut his ties to the Soviet Union and defected to the United States.

Early life and education

Shevchenko was born in the town of Horlivka, eastern Ukrainian SSR, but when he was five years old his family moved to Yevpatoria, a resort town in Crimea on the Black Sea, where his physician father was the administrator of a tuberculosis sanatorium. When the Crimea was overrun by German forces in 1941, he and his mother, along with the patients in the sanatorium, were evacuated to Torgai in the Altai mountains of Siberia. The family was reunited in 1944 after the Germans were driven out of the Crimea. He later recalled how his father attended the Yalta Conference, partially to observe and report on the health of Franklin Roosevelt.

Shevchenko graduated from high school in 1949 and in the same year was admitted to Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He studied Soviet law, Marxist, Leninist and Stalinist theory and trained to become a foreign service diplomat. He married Lina (Leongina), a fellow student, in 1951. He graduated in 1954, but continued his studies as a graduate student.

Foreign service career

In 1956, Shevchenko joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an attaché and was assigned to the OMO (Russian: Отдел Международных Организаций Министерства Иностранных Дел СССР, Department of International Organizations at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the USSR), a branch of the Foreign Ministry dealing with the United Nations and NGOs. In 1958, he was sent to New York City on a three-month assignment to represent the Soviet Union at the annual United Nations General Assembly as a disarmament specialist.

Shevchenko attended the 1962 Geneva Committee on Disarmament Negotiations as a member of the Soviet delegation. The next year he accepted an assignment as Chief of the Soviet Mission's Security Council and Political Affairs Division at the United Nations. This being a permanent posting, his family accompanied him to NYC. He continued in this post until 1970 when he was appointed advisor to Andrei Gromyko. His duties covered a broad range of Soviet foreign policy initiatives.

In his disarmament role, Shevchenko had a close view of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Soviet leadership's perspective of it. He later described it in an interview with WGBH.[2]

In 1973, Shevchenko was promoted and became an Under Secretary General of the United Nations. Although he was nominally employed by the United Nations and owed his allegiance to that international organization, in practice he was expected to support and promote the aims and policies of the Soviet Union. He eventually became resentful of the restrictions that his Soviet superiors subjected him to which prevented him from carrying out his duties as an Under Secretary in an unbiased manner.

Espionage and defection

The early 1970s were a time of détente between the Eastern Bloc and NATO nations. SALT I, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Helsinki Accords, and other international agreements were negotiated during this time. According to Shevchenko's memoirs, he became increasingly disillusioned with real Soviet attitudes toward these international agreements. He had immediate access to the inner workings of the Soviet foreign policy establishment and felt that the Soviet government was cheating on the intent of the agreements for short-term political gain, ultimately to its own disadvantage. He also states clearly that Soviet leaders, while pretending to respect the UN, actually disdained it and viewed it solely as a means to advance Soviet interests, covertly or otherwise. Furthermore, Moscow's requirement that he, as a UN officer, must put Soviet interests ahead of UN interests while pretending otherwise was a violation of the UN charter. He also came to believe that Soviet internal economic policies and insistence on hard-line Communist centralization of power were depriving the Russian people of their freedom and ability to better themselves and their country. His long years of exposure to Western democracies convinced him that the Soviets were "taking the wrong path", economically and politically. He also was tired of, and bitter about, being unfree and speaking unfreely, and he wanted personal freedom. He briefly considered resigning his position with the UN and returning to the Soviet Union in an attempt to change the system from within, but he soon came to the realization that it would have been an impossible task, as he had neither the power nor the influence to effect any significant change. He did not like this option because he felt that such a life in retirement would be meaningless.[3]

By 1975, he had decided to defect. He made contact with the United States Central Intelligence Agency seeking political asylum. However, the CIA pressured him to continue at his post with the United Nations and to supply them with inside information on Soviet political plans. Although fearful of the consequences if he were to be found out by the KGB, he reluctantly agreed, with the idea that if he wanted to fight against the regime's existence, this was an opportunity to do so in a way with real effect or power. For the next three years, he became in effect a "triple agent". Outwardly, a dedicated servant of the United Nations but covertly promoting the political aims of the USSR and, on top of that, secretly reporting the Soviets’ hidden political agenda to the CIA.[4]

In early 1978, he became aware of increased KGB surveillance of his movements. Then suddenly in March he received a cable from Moscow summoning him to return to the Soviet Union for "consultations". Suspicious of the demand and realizing that if he flew to Moscow he might never be permitted to return to his UN duties or even leave the Soviet Union, he called his CIA contact and demanded that they fulfil their promise of political asylum.[4]


Shevchenko often wrestled with how he would broach the idea of upcoming defection with his wife Leongina.[3] He knew that she would probably react angrily and refuse to accede. He ended up never telling her until leaving a note for her right before rushing out the door while she slept.[3] His plan, at least consciously, was that she could read the note and catch up with him soon if she chose to, which he hoped she would. However, when he called her the next day, a KGB man answered the phone. He surmised that as soon as she read the note she called the KGB.[3] She was immediately whisked back to Moscow, where she died mysteriously, supposedly a suicide, less than two months later. Shevchenko surmised that in trying to gain leverage in her predicament she may have threatened senior Party people with exposure of their corruption, which made killing her the easiest solution.[3] He also admitted to himself later that the reason he never told her in advance about his defection is because he knew she would probably get angry and expose his plan to the KGB. In the Soviet Union Shevchenko was tried in absentia and sentenced to death.[3]

From 1978 until his death twenty years later in Bethesda, Maryland, Shevchenko lived in the United States and supported himself with written contributions to various publications and on the lecture circuit. In 1985, he published his autobiography, Breaking With Moscow. In his book, he described Soviet Russia as, among other things, a gangster economy where the KGB intelligence service played a prominent role.

Shevchenko died of cirrhosis of the liver on February 28, 1998, and was buried in Washington, DC.

See also

  • List of Eastern Bloc defectors



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